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← Walking the Line Between Good and Evil: The Common Thread of Heroes and Villains

Walking the Line Between Good and Evil: The Common Thread of Heroes and Villains - Comments

SomersetJohn's Avatar Comment 1 by SomersetJohn

Personally I think hero is one of the most overused and overblown words currently in common use. Every soldier is a hero, as is every police officer, nurse, fireman and just about anyone who gives a little help.

I'm not, I hope, denigrating these people. They make a deliberate commitment to put themselves at service to their fellow man (inc wo-man), including in many cases putting themselves in harms way. They are courageous and deserving of our respect just for joining up. But soldiers, police and firemen know their jobs involve stepping into harms way, dodging bullets, running into burning buildings, confronting the knife wielding nutter. Medical providers don't, at least under normal circumstances, need courage, they need dedication. (When they do need courage they are indeed heroic.) Heroism is courage above and beyond the norm for the job. It's the exception rather than the rule. Using the term for the norm is to devalue its meaning.

Thu, 07 Apr 2011 14:31:22 UTC | #612946

I'm_not's Avatar Comment 2 by I'm_not

"Two members of the same family—even brothers in a shared home environment—could end up as seemingly polar opposites; one doing extreme good: the X-Altruist, the other doing extreme bad: the Sociopath."

I wonder if the Hitchens brothers have read this and what they make of it?

Thu, 07 Apr 2011 15:45:19 UTC | #612962

Peter Grant's Avatar Comment 3 by Peter Grant

Cool, so it seems there's hope for us sociopaths after all.

Thu, 07 Apr 2011 16:34:47 UTC | #612969

Neodarwinian's Avatar Comment 4 by Neodarwinian

" Would we consider all of these people heroes, or were they just ordinary men and women who rose to the occasion? " What other definition of hero would a rational person accept? Sociopath (psychopathy actually ) hero link? Bit of a stretch.

Thu, 07 Apr 2011 18:05:52 UTC | #612995

Scruddy Bleensaver's Avatar Comment 5 by Scruddy Bleensaver

He defines a psychopath as different from a sociopath, in the sense that psychopaths are born with a "defect" that disallows them to feel empathy, and sociopaths are a product of ill-rearing or a result of extreme negative trauma

That's funny, because I've seen it defined exactly the other way around. I wish those in the social sciences weren't so sloppy in their terminology so I could take them more seriously.

Thu, 07 Apr 2011 18:30:35 UTC | #613003

glenister_m's Avatar Comment 6 by glenister_m

I tend to think of a "hero" as someone who is resistant to diffusion of responsibility, and so will act when others just watch, eg. will stop someone attacking someone else, while a crowd watches "helplessly". In that sense the hero is someone who maintains their individuality/identity in a crowd, remains independent in their thinking, and has an altruistic streak.

I also think that this is something that can be taught/encouraged in others. It just takes practice learning not to go along with the crowd, and to do the right thing, even if it isn't "popular".

Thu, 07 Apr 2011 18:59:53 UTC | #613013

Peter Grant's Avatar Comment 7 by Peter Grant

I've always understood it as psychopaths don't feel empathy whilst sociopaths don't want to or can't handle it. I'm anti-social mainly because I find my own emotions difficult enough to deal with, without adding others into the mix as well. I consider myself a reasonably functional sociopath, I'm capable of empathy but try to avoid it when it's not entirely necessary.

Thu, 07 Apr 2011 19:00:24 UTC | #613014

SheilaC's Avatar Comment 8 by SheilaC

Fascinating for a fiction writer. I think I feel a rather interesting hero coming on.

Or maybe it's just the flu.

Thu, 07 Apr 2011 19:10:36 UTC | #613019

Scruddy Bleensaver's Avatar Comment 9 by Scruddy Bleensaver

Comment 7 by Peter Grant :

I've always understood it as psychopaths don't feel empathy whilst sociopaths don't want to or can't handle it. I'm anti-social mainly because I find my own emotions difficult enough to deal with, without adding others into the mix as well. I consider myself a reasonably functional sociopath, I'm capable of empathy but try to avoid it when it's not entirely necessary.

From your description, you sound more like a loner or introvert, like I am. I'm at an age now where I no longer care to try to fit in or bother adapting to accepted norms, so I wouldn't want to be any different. While I can enjoy being sociable in small quantities, I find prolonged exposure to other people thoroughly draining and need downtime by myself to recover. Still, I've been stably married for 25 years and maintain a small cadre of friends I see occasionally in one on one settings, so I'm a well-adjusted loner, not a Unibomber type or survivalist in a remote shack in the woods (though that sounds appealing at times).

From what I understood, both sociopaths and psychopaths are absolutely without empathy and are of shallow affect generally. Sociopaths, though, often are very succesful in business or politics (for obvious reasons), while psychopaths are sadists and usually criminals.

Again, not a scholarly opinion, just what I've read. I've found the following two books interesting reading:

On sociopaths: The Sociopath Next Door On loners: The Loners Manifesto

Thu, 07 Apr 2011 20:26:50 UTC | #613033

Corylus's Avatar Comment 10 by Corylus

It takes a certain kind of fearlessness, driven sense of purpose, and unnaturally high empathy for the plight of others to live your life this way—and do it without hesitation.

Hmm, and if a person engineers a hazardous situation specifically for the purpose of 'rescuing' people from it (doing so in order to gain applause and worship from others) is s/he a psychopath, a sociopath or 'X-altruist'? (I am not happy with the definitions used by the way, but I will set this aside for the purpose of analysing this article on its own merits).

For this behaviour pattern, you will need the ignoring of social norms when an overarching disordered goal is in mind; you will need the deadening of empathy required to put people at risk and you will also need the ability to disregard personal danger in order to perform the rescue. Oh my, looks like a three for one! Well, well maybe it is all just a bit more complicated than that.

Every hero has their weakness, and for the X-Altruist, their weakness is also one of their greatest gifts—their power of empathy.

Someone rescues you - they ain't necessarily empathetic and they ain't necessarily a hero. (Particularly if it is from a fire).

I would need a huge amount of extra evidence before I go for this model wholesale. At least better evidence than...

The havoc such intensity could unleash on a person’s life is immense (One look at the celebrity gossip pages could give you all the convincing information you’ll need in that regard).

What is Scientific American printing here - a paper or a rambling piece of supposition?

It gets worse....

I don’t need to cite any research on this; look around you at the countless live examples.

In everyday conversation no - in a paper you do. What a huge red flag that sort of statement is.

Sigh, I am conscious of being more grumpy than normal, but this really is not acceptable...

The environmental misfortune then triggers impulsive hostility and the closing off from emotions, thus experiencing zero guilt or remorse for one’s actions.Essentially, Lykken claims one is genetic (psychopathy) and one is primarily the result of environmental experience (sociopathy), but they are both under the umbrella of Antisocial Personality Disorder. This point regarding etiology is debatable, and I won’t be getting into that here, but it is relevant to mention.

Here we have a whole paragraph detailing the (unsupported) claims of another with a great big caveat at the end.

So, what is the point of this paragraph? What new information does this provide? What predictions can we make? How can we test this? Who do we find accountable if/when this model if found lacking?

What a complete and utter waste of time.

-==--=-=-

This is a huge, huge pity, because this article by the same author giving insight into why people cling to anti-vaccine hype is so very much better.

Thu, 07 Apr 2011 21:03:44 UTC | #613042

Alan4discussion's Avatar Comment 11 by Alan4discussion

This looks like standard media hype. Hero to zero according to the twists of the story teller. A lot of Hollywood films and bible stories are like this with goodies (who are identified as our team/tribe) with tarted up goody-goody features/justified grievance: and the baddies who are just as reckless mean and violent for some denigrated motive! Plain comic-book morality stuff! How did the world get on for millions of years without heroes to save it, or villains to blame problems on?

Thu, 07 Apr 2011 21:22:32 UTC | #613050

hhobbit's Avatar Comment 12 by hhobbit

I had the feeling when I started to read it that I had dived into a bubbling pot of psychobabble. Did my head in, jumped back out.

Thu, 07 Apr 2011 22:55:48 UTC | #613079

godsbelow's Avatar Comment 13 by godsbelow

Rather a silly study, given that "heroism" is surely in the eye of the beholder. Case in point:

These extreme heroes do not fit the image of the kind, peaceful, non-aggressive hero, like the Dalai Lama

Evidently the author regards the achievement of absolutely nothing on behalf of the oppressed people of Tibet (by a man whose sole claim to recognition is that he is the despot manque of an hereditary caste of theocrats) as a species of heroism. Whereas I do not.

There are plenty of people who regard Osama bin Laden as an "extreme hero", an altruist who has dedicated his life to the cause of jihad. Yet, you will not struggle to find plenty of other people who regard him as the epitome of villainy.

So while assessing the behavioural effects of different personalities is certainly interesting and worthwhile, the study is undermined by the rather obvious fact that "heroism" and "villainy" are not rigid, scientific terms. They're emotionally and culturally charged terms that are to a large extent determined by perspective.

Fri, 08 Apr 2011 04:57:33 UTC | #613159

PERSON's Avatar Comment 14 by PERSON

This is the batman alignment discussion stretched to article length.

Fri, 08 Apr 2011 07:31:40 UTC | #613188

phil rimmer's Avatar Comment 15 by phil rimmer

A potentially more reliable and evidenced source of discussion on the sociopathic is available from one of its key investigators Simon Baron Cohen. His new book "Zero Degrees of Empathy" (The Science of Evil in the US, sigh.) deals with sociopathy from an examination of the complexity of the phenomenon "empathy" and the ways in which it may be said to be absent or deficient, and how society responds to and labels that.

Here is a neuro scientist doing psychology. He will have more to contribute to the debate about morality with his bottom up approach than will Sam Harris and his musings on the computability of harms, I think.

Fri, 08 Apr 2011 08:41:15 UTC | #613201

Peter Grant's Avatar Comment 16 by Peter Grant

Comment 9 by Scruddy Bleensaver

From your description, you sound more like a loner or introvert, like I am. I'm at an age now where I no longer care to try to fit in or bother adapting to accepted norms, so I wouldn't want to be any different.

Can't say that I really want to change either, my behaviour of late has been very introverted, but I am naturally extroverted and every personalty test I've ever done has affirmed this.

While I can enjoy being sociable in small quantities, I find prolonged exposure to other people thoroughly draining and need downtime by myself to recover.

I can totally identify with this, people are exhausting, especially stupid people.

Still, I've been stably married for 25 years and maintain a small cadre of friends I see occasionally in one on one settings, so I'm a well-adjusted loner, not a Unibomber type or survivalist in a remote shack in the woods (though that sounds appealing at times).

Congrats, I think that being in a committed relationship probably helps you stay emotionally balanced.

From what I understood, both sociopaths and psychopaths are absolutely without empathy and are of shallow affect generally. Sociopaths, though, often are very succesful in business or politics (for obvious reasons), while psychopaths are sadists and usually criminals.

I've always suspected that the psychopaths actually stand a better chance of achieving success than sociopaths as they don't have to deal with all those pesky emotions.

Psychopathy vs. sociopathy

Hare writes that the difference between sociopathy and psychopathy may "reflect the user's views on the origins and determinates of the disorder."[52]

In the preface to the fifth edition of The Mask of Sanity, Cleckly stated, "... revisions of the nomenclature have been made by the American Psychiatric Association. The classification of psychopathic personality was changed to that of sociopathic personality in 1958", suggesting that he did not recognise any difference between the conditions.

David T. Lykken proposes psychopathy and sociopathy are two distinct kinds of antisocial personality disorder. He believes psychopaths are born with temperamental differences such as impulsivity, cortical underarousal, and fearlessness that lead them to risk-seeking behavior and an inability to internalize social norms. On the other hand, he claims sociopaths have relatively normal temperaments; their personality disorder being more an effect of negative sociological factors like parental neglect, delinquent peers, poverty, and extremely low or extremely high intelligence. Both personality disorders are the result of an interaction between genetic predispositions and environmental factors, but psychopathy leans towards the hereditary whereas sociopathy tends towards the environmental.[47]

Fri, 08 Apr 2011 10:44:40 UTC | #613218

neil pharr's Avatar Comment 17 by neil pharr

The modern interpretation of good and bad is called Yama (5 items) and Niyama (5 items). For example, Yama (item 1) was called "non-violence" by Ghandi and MLK. Actually, Ahimsa means to live in such a way as to cause the least amount of pain and suffering to other living beings. Most Atheists do not discriminate between animals and plants for food. This is against Ahimsa, because animals have a higher sense of pain and the killing of animals for food is not necesssary to maintian a healthy body. The Scientic American article (I had a subscription in 1965!) goes into great detail in explantions. It is not that difficult, since cardinal human values are universally felt by all humans, even the bruits.

Fri, 08 Apr 2011 18:23:37 UTC | #613319

neil pharr's Avatar Comment 18 by neil pharr

The modern interpretation of good and bad is called Yama (5 items) and Niyama (5 items). For example, Yama (item 1) was called "non-violence" by Ghandi and MLK. Actually, Ahimsa means to live in such a way as to cause the least amount of pain and suffering to other living beings. Most Atheists do not discriminate between animals and plants for food. This is against Ahimsa, because animals have a higher sense of pain and the killing of animals for food is not necesssary to maintian a healthy body. The Scientic American article (I had a subscription in 1965!) goes into great detail in explantions. It is not that difficult, since cardinal human values are universally felt by all humans, even by the bruits.

Fri, 08 Apr 2011 18:24:20 UTC | #613320

biorays's Avatar Comment 19 by biorays

I pulled this excerpt from the article just to highlight a point I often feel inescapable whenever I give my time to taking seriously the claimed science of pyscho-writers.

Read the list and see if you can substitute any professions (especially ones involving finance) for the title sociopath.

"Sociopath:

  • Low impulse control

  • High novelty-seeking needs (desire to experience new things, high need for arousal)

  • Shows no remorse for their actions (lack of conscience, no experienced guilt)

  • Inability or unwillingness to see past own needs in order to understand how another feels (lack of exhibited empathy)

  • Detached emotionally from situations, personal relationships

  • Willing to break rules, defy authority

  • Always acts in the interest of himself, in whatever fashion ultimately serves him best (selfish, self-protective)

  • Extremely fragile or unstable ego, or self-identity

  • Extreme emotional sensitivity"

  • It does not take long to realise how there is an often impenetrable language barrier to explaining anything about 'stereotypical' personalities - let alone disorderly ones. I can easily foresee how a wealthy personality disorder might gain enough popularity to set up their own country, or religion, whilst a poor one ends up in the local clinic. Historically this is very provable. Double standards abound throughout the 'classes' of society.

    Hence, for me, psychology is a necessary pseudo science, seeking to understand and explain that which needs far more concise explanation, but which, it seems, cannot fail to fall into the trap it seeks to eliminate - becoming stereotypical about things it seeks to reduce the bigotry and bias respecting.

    It's why I often want to take it very seriously but find I default to missing the mark. I perceive many of Its manoeuvres from theory to reality as a bridge too far! In fact I often consider the 'psychology expert', and especially underlings thereof, to be employing a high degree of circular hypothesis akin to that which religious thinkers employ in support of their 'feelings' about others behaviours/thoughts/attitudes.

    I'd have hoped for a far more science specific approach but maybe there isn't one and that's the problem that perpetuates the irony of attempting to. Some things just avoid scientific analysis - and often deliberately so!

    Sat, 09 Apr 2011 10:19:46 UTC | #613456

    SomersetJohn's Avatar Comment 20 by SomersetJohn

    Those of you following the incident on HMS Astute may have seen the headline "HMS Astute hero describes..." My immediate thought was military person disarmes nutter, yet another misuse of the term hero. It transpires that the person in question, far from being a navy man was a town councillor, Council leader Royston Smith in fact. Whilst the evidence must determine the final verdict, I am reasonably certain that this gentleman deserves the heroic designation.

    Sat, 09 Apr 2011 15:18:13 UTC | #613494